2017 NFL Picks: Packers vs. Falcons NFC Championship Game Preview

by Kevin Roberts
on January 18, 2017

The 2017 NFL Playoffs are getting very real, very fast, as we are officially one more game away from knowing who will play for the league title in Super Bowl 51. Our playoff picks have gone swimmingly to this point, as we are 8-0 straight up heading into the conference title games.

That doesn’t guarantee us anything, but we’ve had our finger on the pulse of these playoffs since they’ve started and that’s included correctly predicting the Green Bay Packers to get to this point. Does that mean Aaron Rodgers is leading a team of destiny in the green and gold, or will Green Bay’s hot run finally end in the Georgia Dome?

It’s a fair question, as both of these teams have magical stories backing them. Green Bay was dead in the water at 4-6, before A-Rod called for the team to “run the table”. That sparked a six-game winning streak to close out the regular season and culminated in the NFC North division title.

From there, the Packers haven’t looked back, as they torched one of the better defenses in the league in a Wild Card win over the New York Giants and then won a shootout in Dallas against arguably the NFC’s best team in the Cowboys.

Now the Packers come knocking on Atlanta’s door, trying to knock them down in their second meeting after losing in the final minute earlier this year, 33-32.

Of course, that may be easier said than done, as the Falcons will play host to the Packers and sport the league’s most explosive offense (averaging over 33 points per game). If it’s a shootout the Packers desire, Matt Ryan and co. can surely oblige, as they’ve grown accustomed to winning via that route.

Atlanta isn’t here by accident, either. Their run is less dramatic, but it didn’t need theatrics thanks to an 11-5 record and a NFC South crown. The Falcons enjoyed a balanced and potent offense all year and have been remarkably healthy across the board. Their lone blemish is a less than elite defense, which ranks 28th in points allowed per game on the year and has often been torched through the air.

That latter point is something the Packers and Falcons know all too well, as the previous meeting between these two teams was a shootout that went down to the wire. Needless to say, at least at first glance, it’s easy to expect this game to feature plenty of points and possibly a win coming on the last drive of the game.

Let’s see how either side will map that out first, as we break down the odds and keys to the NFC Championship game:

Packers vs. Falcons Odds

A great way to preface this matchup is to first look at the latest Super Bowl odds. The New England Patriots have led the way with the top odds for much of the year and that hasn’t changed, but after the Packers beat Dallas last week, the second team has changed.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the Packers who jumped up behind the Patriots, but rather the Falcons. The odds are still tight, but the Falcons still have a better shot at winning it all than Green Bay, per top betting sites like Bovada:

  • Falcons (+260)
  • Packers (+375)

Green Bay is still being respected, overall, as they still have better Super Bowl odds than the Steelers (+425) and really aren’t that far behind the Falcons.

Packers vs. Cowboys Spread

  • Packers (+4)
  • Falcons (-4)

A huge reason why Green Bay lurks closely behind Atlanta when it comes to their title odds is that few are certain if they’ll even lose this weekend. The Falcons are the easy call as the favorite at home, but Green Bay is among the hottest teams in the league and it’s increasingly tough to bet against Aaron Rodgers right now.

That being said, for the second game in a row, Green Bay enters as a road underdog by a 4-point spread. They almost completely flipped that spread last week in a win over the Cowboys in Dallas, though, so we need to consider all angles when looking at this game.

When looking just at the spread, though, the Packers look like a great ATS pick early on, simply because this game is projected to be tight and the meeting in Atlanta earlier this year was decided by one point.

That’s not guaranteed to happen again, of course, so we need to always consider all of the betting info we can get out hands on. Here is some fantastic ATS data to ponder over:

  • Atlanta is 11-6 ATS this year, overall
  • Atlanta is 4-5 ATS at home this year
  • Atlanta is 6-5 ATS as the favorite this year
  • Atlanta is 1-7 ATS in their last 8 playoff games
  • Atlanta is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games, overall
  • Green Bay is 8-9 ATS this year, overall
  • Green Bay is 3-5 ATS on the road this year
  • Green Bay is 3-1 ATS as the underdog this year
  • Green Bay is 5-0 ATS in their last five playoff games
  • Green Bay is 4-0 ATS in their last four games, overall

MoneyLine

  • Packers +160
  • Falcons -180

Neither conference title game is giving you much love via the MoneyLine, and that makes good sense. All four teams that have made it this far are very good teams with good coaching, explosive offenses and defenses that are at least capable of making some big plays.

That might give every team a solid shot of getting a win this weekend, but it doesn’t promote much profit when it comes to NFL playoff betting. Atlanta is going to be tough to get behind as a straight up bet just because you’ll have to bet a ton of cash to see any real payout. For example, a $500 bet would return just $277.78 at Bovada.

It’s not a whole lot better for the Packers, of course, but that same bet does get you a solid $800 back. That’s pretty good profit if Green Bay pulls off a big upset for the second week in a row. The Falcons might seem like the safer bet, but when it comes to the MoneyLine, Green Bay looks like the play.

Total: 61.5

There’s no way around this Total, as it’s flat out disgusting. However, it’s completely reachable and most would agree it will be shocking if this NFC title game doesn’t hit the Over.

The last meeting between these two sides (65 total points) did so easily and Green Bay just did so last week at Dallas (65 total points). With the Falcons averages over 33 points per game on the year and Green Bay topping 30+ points in each of their last six games, logic suggests we’ll get a high-scoring barn burner.

Of course it’s possible one of these defenses steps up a little bit, but logic points to the Over here and it oddly feels like a fairly safe bet.

Green Bay Packers Breakdown

What’s to be said about the Green Bay Packers that we don’t already know? The league can surely get a lesson in adversity with one look at this group, as Green Bay has lost numerous key players across the board, yet won their division and keeps trucking on.

Looking back, the names are staggering, as top running back Eddie Lacy, backup running back James Starks, top cornerback Sam Shields and recently top wide receiver Jordy Nelson are just a few names Green Bay has lost, yet keeps finding a way to win.

Green Bay survived a depleted defense and a four-game losing streak, finding a way to bounce back with a winning streak that not only got them the NFC North title, but also hasn’t ended. Through it all, the Packers finished 10-6 and have now added two playoff wins, which help vault them into a huge rematch with the Falcons with a blistering 8-game winning streak behind them.

It hasn’t all been on the shoulders of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but there’s no way the green and gold would have sniffed this success without his stellar play. During this insane run, he’s tossed just one interception while putting up a staggering 21 touchdown passes. Green Bay’s offense has morphed into one of the best units in the league and has specifically produced 30+ points in each of their last six games.

Green Bay could not be hotter offensively, while their only knocks are a touch and go running game and the potential absence of stud #1 receiver, Jordy Nelson. Nelson broke some ribs in the win over the Giants two weeks ago and seems doubtful to suit up for this one.

That’s a big loss, but Green Bay did just go into Dallas and win without their top receiver last week and also put up all 38 of their points against the Giants with Nelson sidelined. That gives the Packers plenty of confidence in what they can do heading into this weekend’s NFC title game and if their defense can provide any kind of resistance on the other end, their Super Bowl dreams could actually be realized.

Green Bay’s 3 Keys to Victory

Realizing that goal has gotten more realistic with a truly impressive road win over the Cowboys, who were arguably the best team the NFC had to offer. If the Packers can hammer out these three years this weekend, they just might pull off another upset:

  • Strike Early
  • Pressure Matt Ryan
  • Avoid Turnovers

The first key remains the same for the Packers; they can’t wait to put points on the board. Green Bay has been notoriously slow to start games over the past two years and seem to rally in the third quarter, but on the road against arguably the NFL’s best offense, starting slow isn’t an option.

Scoring on the first drive will be key, while simply avoiding falling into any kind of big hole will also be key. The Falcons can put up points just as well (if not better) than Green Bay can, and in what will probably end up being a high-scoring shootout, the Packers can’t afford to trip up on the road.

While we’re probably headed for a classic shootout, the Packers could certainly do themselves some favors by getting constant pressure on Matt Ryan. Ryan has good pass protection and is among the best passers inside the pocket in the league, but nobody is immune to high level pressure and Green Bay finished the regular season inside the top-5 in the league in sacks.

We know Green Bay can rush Atlanta’s process up and even get sacks, but actually doing so on the road in a huge game could prove to be paramount to their success. Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Neal are all capable of making huge impacts and they’ll need to be on top of their game.

The third key could be a number of things, but in what should be a road shootout, the most important key might end up being simply taking care of the football. Green Bay’s offense has been awesome and they can survive a mistake here and there, but they’ve really had to mask a suspect defense and part of that has to do with not giving their opposition extra free chances.

Green Bay may have been on their way to a blowout win last week, but a costly Aaron Rodgers interception played a crucial role in Dallas crawling back into the game. Rodgers will need to get back to turnover-free football and the other Green Bay offensive playmakers will need to avoid fumbles or tipped passes.

If Green Bay can win the turnover game, get pressure on Ryan and jump out to a lead, they could be in the same spot we saw them in last week. That wouldn’t guarantee a win, but it’d give them their best shot.

Atlanta Falcons Breakdown

There is no denying the Atlanta Falcon the respect they deserve. Offensively, they’ve put up more points than anyone in 2016 and if they get to the Super Bowl, they’ll be by the numbers one of the best offenses to ever make it to the league’s title game.

Matt Ryan has carved up opposing defenses all year, as he led his Falcons past elite Denver and Seattle defenses and just last week earned his second ever playoff victory. Ryan’s amazing 2016 run could very well end in a MVP trophy, while the Falcons are also a ridiculously balanced offense with Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu backing the elite Julio Jones.

From top to bottom, this offense looks virtually unstoppable and every bit the part of a Super Bowl contender. It was the driving force behind a strong 11-5 finish that got the Falcons the NFC South crown and the #2 seed in the playoffs. That may not have looked so daunting had they been forced to head to Dallas this week, but their efforts handed them a home game in the NFC title game and what looks to be a clear path to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.

Of course, it isn’t all roses for the Falcons, who do not boast an elite defense by any stretch of the imagination. Dispatching a shaky Seattle offense at home last week wasn’t as impressive as it looked, and Atlanta’s defensive efforts are even less impressive when you look closer at the numbers.

The Falcons put up a ton of points this year, but it was partially because they had to. Much like the Packers, Atlanta’s defense wasn’t consistently good at stopping the other side, with the Falcons ranking 28th in points allowed. The numbers weren’t amazing elsewhere, either, as the Falcons ranked 28th against the pass.

None of that is good news with a piping hot Aaron Rodgers coming to town and it only gives way to the argument that we’re headed for a shootout. Of course, having Matt Ryan on hand could still help make that a good thing.

Atlanta’s 3 Keys to Victory

  • Matt Ryan Shows Up
  • Establish the Run
  • Vic Beasley Tees Off

Ahead of anything has to be Matt Ryan continuing to be the guy we’ve seen all year. Too many times in past years have we seen Ryan put up gaudy numbers and have experts buy into the Falcons, and then he crumbles under the pressure.

The route here hasn’t been amazing, as Ryan had just one playoff win under his belt before getting his second last week and historically has simply not gotten the job done when he needed to. To this point, it does look like he’s turned a corner and is finally ready to step up and potentially lead the Falcons to glory. Ryan doing that alone won’t guarantee an Atlanta win in a tough matchup, but if they have any chance, it absolutely has to happen.

The second key will be to make sure the Falcons are not one-dimensional. Even if Matt Ryan shows up and he’s slicing up the Packers’ bad pass defense, Atlanta could still run into problems if the Falcons don’t get something going on the ground.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both very capable of being annoying for Green Bay, but it’s worth pointing out that the Packers do sport a solid run defense by the numbers (8th in the league) and Freeman averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in the first meeting.

Then again, this Packers defense got carved up pretty good on the ground last week and isn’t such a staggering force on the road against the run. Atlanta certainly can run the football and doing so would not only take some pressure off of Matt Ryan and the passing game, but it would also keep the Falcons fresh defensively and keep the ball out of the hands of Aaron Rodgers.

Lastly, the Falcons need to get after Aaron Rodgers. A-Rod has great pass protection and even worse, is exceptional at evading pressure and extending plays. Atlanta will need to try to dictate what he does or at least find a way to contain things. Beasley is their best pass rusher and could end up being too much for the Packers to deal with. If so, the Falcons could disrupt Rodgers enough to get him out of sync. Once Rodgers gets comfortable, stopping him could be an impossible nightmare.

The good news for the Falcons is these keys are completely doable and they probably don’t need all three to pull out the win. The first one is the most crucial, of course. Ryan needs to show up and be just as big in this game as he was last week and the first time he faced the Packers. If that’s the case, the Falcons have a terrific shot at moving on to the league’s title game.

Matchup History

The Packers and Falcons have a solid history, as they’ve faced 31 times with Green Bay holding a 17-14 advantage. The Falcons won the most recent meeting, of course, when Matt Ryan connected with Mohamed Sanu late in a 33-32 barn burner earlier this year.

While the Falcons got the most recent win in the series, Green Bay has been a problem for Matt Ryan for his entire career. Green Bay crushed him and his Falcons (48-21) back in the 2011 playoffs and have won four of the last five meetings.

Green Bay and Atlanta have met three times total in the playoffs, with the Packers holding a 2-1 edge (1-0 in the Matt Ryan era).

Packers vs. Falcons Prediction

This game feels impossible to figure out. On one hand, the Falcons have possibly the only offense that is better than Green Bay’s right now, Matt Ryan is in the midst of the best season of his career, the Falcons feel like a potential team of destiny and they’ll be in their own backyard as they try to fight their way to Super Bowl 51.

Of course, Green Bay’s story is pretty convincing, too. The Packers have been a true team of destiny all year, emerging from a 4-6 funk to produce one of the hottest runs in the league behind quite possibly the best quarterback play the league has seen in quite some time. Aaron Rodgers is flat out carrying this team, as the Packers are overcoming injuries, an inconsistent running game and a suspect defense.

In a game that does not offer up an elite defense, we’re almost certainly looking at an offensive shootout that comes down to the final moments. Add in Atlanta’s so-so home record this year (5-3 during the regular season), Green Bay’s amazing road upset at Dallas and the fact that the Packers are the much more experienced team in this situation (second NFC title game appearance in the last three years), and another upset could be brewing here.

One other tidbit could be the potential distraction that likely outgoing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan presents. Shanahan has done a masterful job running Atlanta’s offense, but he’s reportedly set to become the next 49ers head coach and his impending departure could be another obstacle for Atlanta to deal with.

With the red hot Packers coming into town, anything that can work against the Falcons is a bad thing. Look for Green Bay to put the finishing touches on a true “table run” as Aaron Rodgers outduels Matt Ryan this time around.

Pick

Packers
33
Falcons
30

Pick: Packers 33, Falcons 30

MONEYLINE
DECIMAL
FRACTIONAL
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